This year’s Pride will mark the 50th anniversary of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). There will be a socially distanced veterans’ march taking place from BBC centre onwards to Trafalgar Square to celebrate anniversary of the first gay liberation front march. And as a founding member of the GLF our very own Philip Rescorla will be attending the march.
On Sunday 21st June, in the run up to the event, members of the choir were treated to a fascinating interview with Pinkies Michael Derrick and Philip Rescorla along with Philip’s partner Martin Edwardes about LGBT activism in the early 70s and how the GLF was established. The Pink Singers was formed a few years later in 1983 for the Lesbian & Gay Pride march in London. This activism and political agenda was at the heart of the establishment of the Pink Singers and remains so today.
Watch the video below and read Philip’s fascinating account of the early history of the GLF.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) which had its first meeting in London on 14th October 1970 at the London School of Economics where I was studying Social Administration. Nineteen of us attended the first meeting. The GLF dragged homosexuality out of the closet, onto the streets and into the public eye.
By the end of January 1971 there were up to five hundred people a week attending the General Meetings and in August 1970 there was a march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square organised by the Youth Group. I had become part of the GLF Street Theatre and we devised a special piece for the occasion (see picture, I’m the bearded one in the middle couple).
In July 1972 the first Gay Pride march left Trafalgar Square and marched to Hyde Park for a Gay Pride Party, with over a thousand in attendance, accompanied by two thousand police! By then the GLF had started to fragment but it had created the conditions for the LGBTQ movements we have now, giving birth to our helplines, newspapers and activist groups.
In 1983 the Pink Singers were formed to provide a choir for the Pride March and we have never missed a London Pride March or Festival since. Marching with my Pink Singers family is one of the highlights of my year and I count myself fortunate to have been there at the start of the modern gay movement and fought for the rights we enjoy today in the UK.
This is the first year since 1983 that we haven’t been able to attend London Pride physically as a choir. To make up for this Pinkies Amy, Sally-Anne and Will tell us about their respective first prides.
Happy Pride Month, y’all.
Pride looks a lot different this year than I expected. I was hoping that the Pride in London Parade would be my first Pride event. I have never been to any Pride before – not even as an ally. I was too afraid of being associated with “The Homosexuals” and stigmatized by my religion for being an ally to go to a Pride event. In other words, I was the opposite of proud. I was ashamed of being queer.
As I grow more and more into myself and grow more confident in identifying as a bisexual and queer woman created by a loving God, I feel more confident participating in Pride month.
But then we had a global pandemic. And large gatherings got canceled. And then protesters marched down my street and one of them waved a rainbow flag with the words “I can’t breathe” written on it. And I realized Pride month isn’t canceled. It just looks different this year. It’s still happening. And this year we are remembering that Pride started with five days of rioting at Stonewall. We are remembering that black and brown women led the way. We remember that, like people of color, LGBTQ people have suffered from police brutality.
Intersectionality has me thinking about how I can make my understanding of Pride — and my baby steps towards representing myself and supporting rights for the LGBTQ community — more inclusive.”
Amy Delamaide, Alto
My first Pride (or “Gay Pride” as it was called then) was in 1985. It was a small affair compared with the event today and Divine sang from a boat on the Thames. I’m not sure if I went on my own but I wouldn’t have minded as it was so important for me to be there. I probably told my Dad (who was very supportive) that I would try and go to the march, because I remember ringing him afterwards from the payphone in “The Fallen Angel”- a then famous Gay pub in Islington, all excited because I had done it!
This was during or shortly after the Miners Strike and an organisation called “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” helped support the strikers financially by collecting donations. A woman from a Welsh mining area explained that people in the mining community were not sure what to say to “them” (the lesbians and gays) at first. But after the two groups had met, she said that now they ask “when are those nice people from London coming back?” She also said that she wanted us to understand that “If my child grows up and tells me they’re gay,that’s alright”. I know that may not sound very radical today, but in those days, there was more prejudice against us. Years later, the story about how gay and lesbian people supported the Welsh miners was the subject of the film “Pride”.
Two years ago I attended my first Pride event. I got up at nine am, put on a rather rushed layer of eyeliner, splattered some glitter on my cheekbones and got the tube into central London.
I had got up this early to take part in a walking tour around Soho. As we walked, the guides explained its historical importance as a hub for protests, revelry, historic scandals and as a spiritual home for the LGBTQ+ community. Later as I watched the parade all this history gave me an emotional context to the hundreds of people, companies and choirs, to name just a few, all marching with their own individual communities. I hoped that one day I would be part of this parade, dancing in the street, walking arm in arm with my chosen family.
In the autumn of 2019, I joined the Pink Singers and after an incredibly emotional and happy first season, somewhere in the back of my mind there was a growing excitement about next year’s Pride march. Indeed, when it got to January it started to come up on the agenda for the season. Every single time it was mentioned, even in passing, I felt tingles down my spine.
When Covid-19 meant that all Pride marches this year were cancelled my first reaction was that of complete deflation. I knew that this was only temporary, and that there would be other opportunities to march and to show pride, but in that moment a great sadness pervaded my being.
But then the Pinkies virtual choir began, and slowly but surely this irrational sadness has been replaced with that same awed feeling I felt at my first ever Pride. Throughout these rehearsals we have explored not only the history of the choir, but past stories of incredible activism. We have sung, cried and laughed together, and I could not be more grateful for the privilege to sing every week with my friends.
I have come to the realisation that Pride with the Pink Singers is not about a march. It is about living your life through community, through activism, through laughter, through bad zoom connections and most importantly through song.
Just as I felt proud walking down the streets of Soho two years ago hearing the tales of LGBTQ+ past and seeing communities present, I feel proud this year safe in my house, still wearing a rather rushed layer of eyeliner and glitter and singing with the Pink Singers.
Like all choirs sadly at the moment we are unable to get together to sing and make music. Physical connection is so important for us as humans and is an intrinsic part of the Pink Singers community. We miss it like crazy, but in these dark times we are finding new ways to connect within and outside our community.
When we heard that Making Music were planning to run virtual concerts we jumped at the chance to take part. We created a watch party and many of our members spent a fun 45 minute concert watching ourselves line up alongside including choirs, a brass band, a steel band and a drumming group.
If you want to scroll straight through to our performance we’re on third at 7:40.
For our song choice we selected Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. This slowed down version of the song has organically grown to become a Pink Singers standard and a song we go back to over and over again. And like many of the songs we have performed over the years it has a special meaning during these times.
It’s counter intuitive to think you would adapt Whitney’s 80’s dance hit to a sad, reflective song about love but look beneath the fizzy pop, primary colours and you’ll find something unexpected. You’ll find poignancy and a longing for connection. Chris Chambers’ arrangement with its clashing and beautiful harmonies is only complete when we have every voice part included, when we are all there singing together. It seems to be as edifying to listen to as it is fun to sing.
I Wanna Dance, slowed down like this is a reminder of the struggle of individual isolation and the promise that sharing this sadness together makes us a bit less alone.
In the concert we are joined by other choirs and groups including a steel band and a brass band. It’s a fun way to spend 45 minutes and to feel part of the wider musical community finding ways to connect online.
Making Music will be running these events on a fortnightly basis. Subscribe to their YouTube channel if you are interested in watching other videos and live events.
Content warning: discussion of racist, anti-Black violence and murder
Given the news of the past week, it hopefully comes as no surprise that as a choir, we too would like to add our voice of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Even though we are known for putting on shows that emphasise happiness and joy, we must not forget that our origin, as a choir and as a community, lies in a resistance to legislative violence against a marginalised group: the Pink Singers were formed at a time where Pride was still a protest, rather than a celebration, a time where LGBT+ people were explicitly targeted by the state, by legislation, and by the police.
While for some things have changed for the better since 1983, this does not mean that the fight is over. Police and state violence continues to target marginalised groups around the world, and in particular Black people. Now is the time that we ask our members and friends, to reflect on and learn about the protests happening around the killing of George Floyd. Floyd was killed through strangulation by Minneapolis police officers, and his death has sparked a resurgence of protests under the banner of Black Lives Matter, a campaign which started in 2013 after the acquittal of the police officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
It is particularly important for non-Black LGBT+ people to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as our struggles are inherently intertwined. This Pride month marks 51 years since the Stonewall uprising in New York, an uprising which was explicitly in response to continued police harassment of LGBT+ people, many of whom were Black LGBT+ people.
Important Black figures during the Stonewall uprising include Marsha P. Johnson, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, as well as a campaigned with ACT UP; Stormé DeLarverie, whose resistance to police harassment has been said to spark the uprising; and Miss Majors, who was present during the night of the uprising, and has since been instrumental in HIV/AIDS activism and campaigning for trans rights. If it wasn’t for Black LGBT+ figures, we very literally would not have Pride today.
Despite news outlets focusing on the US at the moment, it is important to remember that this happens in the UK as well: police violence against Black people is disproportionally high, as are Black deaths in police custody. Particular targets are victims who have mental health issues, a disability, or are struggling with addiction. Particularly in London, the rate of being stopped and searched soars for Black individuals, as well as other ethnic minorities. The targeting and scapegoating of marginalised people is not over yet, and for many it is becoming worse.
Regardless of whether we are currently directly affected by this, regardless of our identity or background, it is everyone’s responsibility to work towards a world in which nobody is subject to police or state violence. Whether that is through protesting on the streets, donating to charitable/community organisation, or educating ourselves on the ways racism (in particular anti-Black racism) is embedded in society. We have a duty to do all that we can, to be part of the solution rather than the problem.
If you have any money at all to spare, please consider donating generously to any of the following:
The Bail Project – an organisation combating financial discrimination in the justice system.
The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust – A UK-based organisation set up in memory of Stephen Lawrence. The organisation works through education of young people, and campaigning for a transformed justice system.
The Movement for Black Lives – A platform for Black organisations and individuals to share strategies and visions, in order to radically transform society for the benefit of Black people.
This month the Pink Singers were due to perform at an International LGBT+ choir festival in Italy. For obvious reasons the festival was cancelled however that hasn’t stopped two of our members from getting involved in an International collaboration to fight for the rights of people across the world.
Pinkies Pippa Sterk (Alto) and Liang Wee (Tenor) joined members from 20 choirs across 6 countries to sing a song of solidarity to recognise the rights of people across the world. Pippa tells us more about the project below.
This year’s International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) fell on Sunday 17th May. The day is observed globally, and is used to raise awareness of LGBT+ rights work being done, as well as the violation of LGBT+ rights worldwide. This year’s observance is particularly poignant from a European perspective, as for the second year in a row ILGA Europe reports that very little progress has been made with regards to LGBT+ rights, and there are even countries that have regressed in terms of LGBT+ rights.
For this year’s IDAHOT celebration, members from 20 choirs across 6 countries came together to sing the traditional song Bella Ciao in a virtual choir. Bella Ciao is an Italian folk song, originally sung to protest the working conditions of female labourers in the rice fields of Northern Italy. Since the 1940s, it has been popularised as an anti-fascist song, and in the IDAHOBIT recording it has been used as a call for recognition of the rights of all people.
The virtual choir recording was put together by Cromatica, the Italian association of rainbow choirs. Cromatica organises a yearly choral festival held in Perugia and the Pink Singers were set to be the first non-Italian choir to perform at this year’s festival due to be held on the Bank Holiday weekend (8-10 May).
The cancelling of the festival was a huge disappointment to us as a lot of organisational work had already gone into planning of the performances and travel.
This made it all the more exciting to have an opportunity to participate in a global project, and affirm that LGBT+ communities will reach out to each other in times of need, even if we can’t leave our houses. The Cromatica team put together the recording and the video with incredible efficiency, and the result is absolutely beautiful.
In particular, it was a joy to know that some of the participating singers were from Omphalos Voices in Perugia (our guest choir for the Summer 2019 Divas concert), and Sing Out! Brussels (who invited us to sing with them in their December 2019 concert). Not to mention the fact that there were familiar faces from our fellow London-based friends, London Gay Men’s Chorus.
Hopefully we will all be able to meet each other in real life soon, but until then it is good to know that as LGBT+ singers, even physical distance will not stop us from joining forces in spirit.